For the first time, Erdoğan admitted in late January that the long detentions have had an effect on the military's capabilities at a time when the country has been facing increased instability with its neighbors -- mainly Syria, Iran and Iraq to its south and southeast.
Erdoğan's remarks carry the risk of intervention into the purview of the judiciary, and could serve to substantiate increasing concerns that he has entered into some kind of a deal with the military in which he has given up his government's resolve to fight the alleged coup plotters. These risks and concerns that have re-emerged following Erdoğan's remarks are another topic of discussion; I will focus on the state of the military's morale from a historical perspective. This is because there are various Turkish circles that have recently begun arguing that the coup charges that they claim were leveled with no evidence against this once untouchable institution have demoralized the military at a time when the country is facing instabilities and that this endangers the nation's security. Such allegations are not well founded because they neglect the fact that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has spent most of its time since 1960 staging military coups and handling purges of its own ranks. How can one expect high morale to exist within TSK under those conditions, not just today, but for decades now?
The TSK has either staged military coups or pre-empted military coups from within the armed forces since the first free and fair elections took place in 1950, when the Democrat Party (DP) had a landslide victory, ending the Republican Peoples Party's (CHP) single party rule. Unhappy with the DP's governance in all spheres, the Turkish General Staff, then led by General Faruk Gürman, prepared a coup plan, but it would ultimately fail.
The first military coup in Turkey was staged in 1960 on the grounds that the economy was faltering. Then Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hanged in September 1961 with two other ministers, after being charged with corruption and violating the Constitution. Then Chief of General Staff Mustafa Rüştü Erdelhun was tried and sentenced to death on charges that he wanted to prevent a coup from taking place, and 3,500 high ranking officers, including 235 generals were forced to retire for not supporting the coup.
In February 1962 and again in 1963, military coups were attempted. In 1970, the military removed 56 generals and 516 colonels in 1970 to prevent a coup from within.
In 1971, the military issued a memorandum calling for a strong and a credible government. The memo forced then Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel to resign, and for the next ten years or so, there were weak coalition governments.
Seeing itself as the guardian of Turkey's founder Kemal Atatürk's secular principles, the TSK staged the bloodiest coup in 1980, and having a militant secular character, the TSK launched another coup in 1997, forcing the coalition government headed by an Islam-sensitive party to leave office. Prior to the 1997 coup, many members of the military were removed from the TSK for practicing Islam.
The Turkish military issued a memorandum in 2007 and posted it on its web site warning the current ruling AK Party not to elect Abdullah Gül as president, in part because his wife wears a headscarf. This TSK attempt to force a government to resign backfired. The Parliament formed after the elections, elected Gül as President and the AK Party responded with a strong counter statement to the military.
The seizure of arms hidden in a house in the Ümraniye district of İstanbul in 2007 triggered the first-ever coup plot charges, leveled mainly against members of the TSK, including retired and active generals. Currently, there are several trials underway, the principal ones code-named Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, in which hundreds of retired and active officers, including generals, as well as civilians, are being tried on charges of making coup plans to unseat the ruling AK Party. An İstanbul court gave its verdict on the Sledgehammer suspects, and their cases are now in appeals court.
As can be seen from this chronology of events, ever since 1950 when Turkey introduced the first multi-party elections, there has been an endless series of events where the military either staged coups or faced purges and coups plans from within itself.
If the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup plans did not materialize, it is mostly because some from within the military suppressed hardcore elements from acting.
It is a simple fact that the morale of the military has been low for decades and that it is the government's as well as Parliament's responsibility to save the military from themselves through structural reforms that they have neglected to introduce for the past several years.
My next column will outline the military reforms that should be put into force so that Turkey will have a military with high morale that can concentrate on thwarting possible external threats.